Saturday, June 22, 2024
9 C

Khiara Squires: Why our children were denied an opportunity to meet Catholic chastity speaker Jason Evert

Khiara Squires
Khiara Squires
Khiara Squires works for the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation.
Jason Evert - The Catholic Weekly
Photo: Giovanni Portelli Photography/Sydney Catholic Schools

A great deal has been said in the media over the last week about the perils of social media, the potential for online abuse, the over-sexualisation of children, and the pressures teens face to conform to destructive sexual practices that are increasingly normalised online.

In this environment, our Catholic schools are called to offer our children an alternative way of relating to one another, one that is informed by Gospel values.

When I learned Jason Evert would be speaking to students in Catholic schools across Sydney this term, I was delighted to hear he’d be visiting my children’s school, MacKillop Catholic College at Warnervale on the Central Coast.

Parents were advised that the college would be hosting a presentation entitled ‘Love or Lust’ — one of only five presentations by Evert for secondary students across the Diocese of Broken Bay. The purpose was to encourage young people not to feel pressured into sexual relationships and to develop their own sense of dignity as young men and women created in God’s image and for his likeness.

As parents the challenging reality today is that we will not always know what is happening online, on our children’s screens on the bus, at school or in their bedrooms as hard as we might try. It is already difficult to support our children in their Catholic faith when they’re bombarded with extreme ideas and peer pressure on all sides. So, to have a speaker of the profile of Jason Evert become available to our schools and students, and who I had witnessed speak powerfully in the Archdiocese of Sydney earlier this year, was a positive initiative that I was keen to encourage.

However, that excitement was somewhat short-lived. On 17 May the college’s parents were notified that as a result of parent feedback, the college had decided to only offer this presentation to students in Years 10, 11 and 12.

Jason Evert - The catholic weekly
Giovanni Portelli Photography/Sydney Catholic Schools

Over this last weekend, various media outlets reported calls from parents at St Joseph’s Catholic College, East Gosford, for their Jason Evert event to be cancelled altogether. One parent told The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘‘I sent my daughter to the school to help her become a strong, independent and capable woman, not to have her taught out-of-date views about keeping herself ‘pure’.’’ Another said that she believed Evert’s teachings did not ‘‘align with many of the teachings of modern Catholicism.”

Can someone please show me where to find this new ‘modern Catholicism’? I have obviously missed the memo and I am still using the original one.

On 20 May, MacKillop parents like myself were notified that Jason Evert would no longer be attending the college at all, and that his presentation would only be livestreamed for those students whose parents opt in and consent within the next 18 hours for their children to attend. For my children, this translates to being removed from mates taking the usual classes and being grouped with a minority of kids in front of a TV for a sex-ed talk – “Thanks a lot mum!”.

I am perplexed as to how my children are now missing this opportunity for high-quality Catholic formation at their Catholic college on account of ‘concerns’ which are in fact at odds with Catholic teaching.

I am also concerned that this sends a message to students that what they see on social media is “normal” and that views like those expressed by Jason Evert are fringe.

Needless to say, MacKillop Catholic College is a school where parents voluntarily enrol their children in a faith-based school. Its parents and their students are, at the very least, expected to be open to what this faith offers and not to oppose the faith which is at the heart of the school’s very existence. They are most certainly expected not to prevent or marginalise students from receiving the Catholic formation on the human person and sexuality which their Church supports and our secular, oversexualised culture certainly demands.

Jason Evert - the catholic weekly
Giovanni Portelli Photography/Sydney Catholic Schools

While some might seek to ‘cancel’ Evert under the guise of “age-appropriateness”, the true agenda of the ‘concerned’ is evident. One parent from St Joseph’s College criticised the Diocese of Broken Bay for holding the events given the “ongoing discussions about gendered violence and women’s rights in Australia”. When talking to the ABC, a student representative from St Joseph’s said, “this man coming into an all-girls school and giving a talk about chastity is almost condescending about the place of women in society.”

Evert has presented to more than a million people, predominantly young people, on six continents, and seen, as we parents do, the harm experienced by our young people, including our girls, when they are exposed to false notions of ‘empowerment’ that actually undermine their dignity and self-respect.

Here’s a message to our Catholic school leaders – our children need you to stand firm and boldly proclaim the faith. They need to witness your confidence in, and unashamed support of the Gospel, particularly when pressed on important matters of Church teaching and human relationship. The gift to formally teach the faith is reserved for a minority; the responsibility to lead in the arena of religious education, even fewer. It calls for leaders of conviction, not conformity.

To our bishops, priests, and other church leaders, our children need you to empower our Catholic school leaders and equip them to ensure that our Catholic schools remain ‘Catholic’—not just in name but to their very core.

To Catholic school parents, I encourage you to support your Catholic schools when they strive to provide high quality Catholic teaching and are met with opposition from within.

Our God is love. Our God is kind and merciful, rich in compassion. And this is what he asks of us towards one another. We are not here to judge; we are here to accompany and to love sacrificially just as Christ Jesus did.

Jason Evert - The Catholic weekly
Giovanni Portelli Photography/Sydney Catholic Schools

However, we cannot allow the good news and the church’s teachings to be cancelled on account of someone feeling somewhat challenged by the Word of God. To the contrary, we should each do our best to be challenged every day by the Word of God for it is in the constant shaping and pruning that God’s love for us is made manifest.

Once upon a time, a bold man exhorted the people of Corinth, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Cor 16:13-14). When opposition to the Catholic faith gains a foothold inside our Catholic schools, these words of St Paul echo with greater urgency and importance than ever.

- Advertisement -